Concert Review: Justin Rutledge with NQ Arbuckle, The Mod Club, Friday, May 29, Toronto
Rule number one when headlining a live gig: don’t let the opening band upstage you.
NQ Arbuckle opened the early show at the Mod Club in Toronto on Friday, May 29, with some serious country-rock. Lead by raspy-voiced Neville Quinlan, the band rocked through eight songs spanning all three of their Six Shooter Records releases. They opened with a smoking version of “Huntsville Affair” from the fantastic album XOK, which made many alt country music bloggers best-of lists for 2008. In fact, I first learned about NQ Arbuckle last year from a 24-year-old fan in Alabama (isn’t the internet awesome?), which makes you wonder if “Huntsville Affair” refers to the town in Ontario or the city down south. As Quinlan chugged beer, did tequila shots, and told funny stories, the band played through many crowd favorites including “Punk Rocker,” “I Liked You Right From the Start,” “Part of a Poem by Alden Nowlan Called Ypres: 1915,” and “Cheap Town.” Guitarist Pete Kesper cranked out some serious bad-ass solos especially on “Ontario, Michigan.” They also played a track that they recently recorded with Carolyn Mark from a new collaborative album that is scheduled to be released this October. What a rockin’ way to start a Friday night!
Twenty minutes later fellow Six Shooter artist Justin Rutledge took the stage and played mostly tracks from his 2008 release, Man Descending. This album is a beautiful record steeped in classic country traditions, with sorrowful lyrics that make you want to blubber into your beer. Rutledge is a master of this type of country music, but I felt it really clashed with NQ Arbuckle’s opening set. The audience was chatty and anxious, and it was hard to hear Rutledge sing at some points. Its not to say that he wasn’t good. In fact, he and his band were wonderful. David Baxter cranked out some sweet, sobbing electric guitar solos, while Burke Carroll was masterful on pedal steel. They played “St. Peter,” “This Too Shall Pass,” “Alberta Breeze” among other tracks from Man Descending.
After Rutledge played a few solo acoustic tracks, he brought out the band and, much to my surprise and delight, local country musician Doug Paisley. Paisley lead the group in a Lefty Frizzell song (sorry, track name is escaping me, I didn’t bring my notebook with me!), which I thought was cute as Paisley himself if a “lefty” guitar player. Then Rutledge joined Paisley and the band in a slower, country-fied version of “Johnny B. Goode.” Rutledge and company picked up the second half of the show significantly, playing a much more up-tempo set which even included some gospel numbers. He closed his show with his trademark “Jellybean” song; Rutledge came out into the crowd and lead everyone in an acoustic sing-along. Great way to end the night.
Its not that Rutledge was genuinely upstaged by NQ Arbuckle, but the two artists were of vastly different country styles which did not transition very well between the two sets. But overall, it was a very solid night of music by two incredibly talented acts.